Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 (now available on Amazon!)

Homestead 101 Cover

I never guessed back in 2012 what this would become.  I set out to chronicle our adventures in homesteading.  To create a template and how-to that we wish we had.  We weren’t able to find information on how to farm high altitude, or how to bottle feed a goat, or how to do any of the hundreds of things we did by trial and error on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.

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Those years on the homestead were some of the best times of our lives.  Re-reading the manuscript was like reading about an old friend.  I laughed and recollected.  I finished the book with a smile.  As if I had read it for the first time.

Our Lady of the Goats

This book is priceless, I tell you, it has everything a new homesteader could possibly need to get started on their journey.  Organic gardening, high altitude farming, canning, dehydrating, root cellaring, freezing produce, back yard chickens, bottle feeding goats, taking care of ducks, candle making, soap making, herbal remedies, recipes, homemade gifts….goodness, the list goes on.  The textbook we needed, but in a humorous storytelling method.

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I am so excited to see this book in print!  It is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/152077494X?ref_=pe_870760_150889320

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Wishing you many blessings on your homesteading journey.  See you ’round the farm!

Hugelkultur Gardening

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Hugelkultur gardens.  Heck, that is just fun to say!  This German word means “hill culture”.  It is an easy form of raised beds.  Some beds can be seven feet tall!

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Logs and branches are your foundation. We have branches piled up behind the chicken coop.  Doug was going to use them for firewood, but I claimed them for my gardening project!  One could dig a trench or place rocks or other materials around the bed to hold it into place.  The logs are laid out, filled in with branches, straw, leaves, then topped with gardening soil.  The bigger logs take many years to break down and hold on to water.  So a seven foot tall bed would never have to be watered, even in the desert!  Now, mine will be just a foot or so tall once it settles and shrinks.  The microorganisms in the wood benefit and improve the soil.  It’s all pretty ingenious.  By the time the wood completely breaks down, the soil beneath should be pretty cleaned up.

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I’ll have enough materials to make one bed like this.  We’ll do many beds of different styles so that we can compare them at the end of the season.

Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 12

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Every year’s garden is different. As soon as you think you have it figured out, the next year throws you for a loop.  This is why becoming a professional farmer can cause severe anxiety issues.  There is no control.  Over anything!  Here in our three community garden plots we are simply trying to feed ourselves for the summer.  And we are eating delicious food.  This year we may not see pumpkins (which is crazy to me, my farm was called Pumpkin Hollow Farm, for crying out loud!) but we will see for the first time ever sweet potatoes.  We have had lots of rain for Colorado and it shows.  So for starting with a plot that had sand and ant hills, with little amending to the soil, and two tons of hail thrown in, I’d say we’re looking pretty good this year.

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In season now are peas.  Glorious purple snow peas and crunchy snap peas.  A few thick pods of English peas are ready but I do believe that I am missing several vines of English peas.  The rabbit seems to know nothing of it.

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The collard greens are prolific and delicious young.  Crisp them in the oven with the snow and snap peas, some garlic, salt, and a good drizzle of olive oil for a farm to table side.  The tomatoes are setting on their vines as well.  Yesterday I did have a hankering for fried green tomatoes but they aren’t quite that big yet!

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The cabbages are growing their heads.  Now, there is a fine line in the high plains of Colorado, one week you could have happily growing cabbage and the next little black bugs will be sent by Mother Nature to take them out since they aren’t ready yet.  The clean up crew.  So, sometimes you can just harvest as is, without the finished head.  Chiffonade the leaves and stir fry.  With the snow and snap peas, of course!

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Some of the potatoes have flowered and some are yet to flower.  Potato flowers are amazingly beautiful.  They always surprise me in their lovely understated elegance.  I let the mustard, radish, and arugula plants go to seed.  I enjoy their flowers and they may reseed themselves, which is always a nice treat.

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The herbs have been prolific.  Waving California poppies, knee high cilantro in bloom, morning glories grasping for the trellis, volunteer borage with its star-like blooms.  Chamomile and its glorious scent, the first head of Calendula, roses.

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Lots of fresh lettuces, baby carrots, greens, young onions, and herbs await.  I am better after an hour in the garden.  My medicine.  Watching the water crystals from the sprayer bounce off the leaves of the great sunflowers, watching birds flit by, a lady bug lands on a nearby leaf.  I am in my element in a garden, wherever it may be.

Friday Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 10 (erosion, hail, hoppers, and hope)

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And this, my dear friends, is one reason we do not rototill!  With the crazy summer storms we have been getting an inch of sandy thick topsoil from the neighboring gardens slid onto my plants and pathways.

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My novel takes place in the 1930’s and through my grandparents’ stories and books I am learning about the dust bowl.  Something we were never taught in school and something that could so easily happen again as we deliberately and repeatedly deplete our soils of nutrients instead of building on top of the soil.  Soil does not like to be barren!

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“Oh hail” is my new cuss word.  Grasshoppers are my nemesis.

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Yet, each day the soil and my plants call to me.  I find my respite and peace with fingernails caked with dirt, birds flitting by, and despite everything, the harvest.  Plants want to grow.  Spinach, baby kale, baby collards, arugula, lettuce, and nearing the end of radish days fills my basket.

I thin a few carrots and beets each day.  It is the most loathsome job in the garden I know.  I think that I will just put two fingers down for two inches, pick everything in between, but goodness, those seedlings are everywhere.  Which direction do I go?  Two inches this way?  Then I take out that nice tall one…It is rather stressful but it must be done, for carrots one or two inches in girth feed folks a lot better than two millimeters in girth.  The kids need room to grow.

Next year, I think, you shall find me at the end of the winter months at a table with a glass of wine and opera blaring carefully dotting each seed with glue and placing them strategically two inches apart on long strips of toilet paper.  Though that sounds dreadful to my “do six things at a time” mind, listening to Andrea Bocelli and dotting seeds with glue sounds a lot more fun than the mass killings I am attempting to complete in my garden.

This week I will be laying more mulch and making everything tidy.  We’ll see what there is to harvest.  We’ll start planning our fall crops.  We’ll listen to birds, get a sun tan, and plan up new recipes inspired by the garden.

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My balcony garden is doing amazing, may I add.  Just goes to show that the best gardens have a roof!

Farmgirl Gardening Series (First Week of June Checklist)

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One thing to remember while gardening in the high plains is that one needs to add a full 2-4 weeks onto the supposed harvest date on the seed packets.  I have never had a radish ready in 21 days.  I’ll tell you that much.  So, when planting seeds make sure you add an extra few weeks to the math.

#1 Acknowledge disappointments.  I started crying, I’ll admit it, when I saw that the plots next to mine had been rototilled.  I cried because six inches of their dirt was now flipped upside down on my rows next to theirs.  6 inches of upside down topsoil.  Once the seeds that I had planted came up they were all bunched together in a softball sized circle.  Once I thin them I will have 4 plants from an entire envelope of seeds.

These things happen.  The term “One for God, one for nature, and one for the gardener” is very, very true.  You can count on one third of your seeds coming up and surviving.  The good news is we can always replant!  There are many life lessons in the garden.

Not a single soybean has risen from the soil surface.  I will assume they will come up next week.  If not, I’ll plant something else.

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#2 Note where there are empty spaces.  Only half of my zucchini seeds germinated.  I didn’t use as much space as I thought I would for tomatoes.  There is a strip of empty soil along the south side of the garden that I didn’t plant.  I can save them for the second round of cold crops (we’ll plant those in July) or plant annuals, another type of seed that looks intriguing, or more of what we love to eat best.  No space unused!

#3 Check your mulch.  Right now it is to be a light covering, thicker on the paths.  The mulch over the plants is not for weed suppression right now, or the plants won’t come up!  It is just lightly covering the soil so it doesn’t dry out or erode or blow away.  We’ll mulch thicker as the plants get up and stronger.

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#4 Water each day if is no rain.  I will never forget my lessons with my friend, Deb, years ago in which she would have me water then ask me if it was watered.  I would say yes, she would have me check the soil and it was dry!  Three times I watered and directly beneath the surface was completely dry!  So I check the soil with my finger.  Wet up to the second knuckle and it is watered.

#5 I weed on my hands and knees this early in the season.  It helps me not accidentally hoe a vegetable seedling.  It helps me see what is coming up and what is not.  I can be more intimate with my garden this early in the season to get a better idea of what is going on.  I do wish the red ants would move out of the north garden!

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#6 Take a few minutes in your garden each day.  Even if just to enjoy a few sips of water and watch the birds.  Talk to the plants.  Encourage them.  Sing, hum, sit in the sun.

Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 5 (Jalagi Adusgi, plant markers, and weeds)

 

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Cherokee Garden

Welcome to our Cherokee garden.  Maryjane loves to garden.  She likes to play in the back of my truck, then come over and plant some seeds, then water, then relax in the sun.  “This is too fun, Grammie!” she squeals.

This last week the nights (and frankly some of the days) were too cold for summer plants.  This week I will plant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

This week we made signs denoting where everything is.  Selu-corn, Iya-Pumpkins, Nunv-potatoes, Sahlol– lobelia, Jisdu unigisdi– what the rabbit eats, or rose hips.  I even labeled the “weeds”.  Plant markers are notoriously impossible.  They shed their lettering by mid-season.  This time we “laminated” them with packing tape.

 

My garden is already beginning to flourish.  All the cold crop seeds have germinated.  Potatoes, onions, and garlic are just peeking over the soil, there are more to come up.  Mustard, kale, chard, lettuce, peas, radishes, cauliflower, beets, cabbage, carrots, pak choi, spinach, broccoli, herb seedlings, all raising up in song to Nudah (the sun) and to another beautiful day in the garden.

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Maryjane in the sun

A note on weeds:  Heavens, weeds will be there from the beginning to the end.  No use trying to eradicate them.  Mother Nature is a smidge savvier than you and I.  I go through the garden nearly every day and pick wayward, tiny weeds coming up.  That is the best we can do.  No worries.  The plants will still grow.  Plants want to grow!

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The Little Farmgirl

I hope your seedlings are up, your weeds are down, and you are watering each day if it doesn’t rain!

See you next week in our Jalagi Adusgi!

Farmgirl Gardening Series- Week 2 (Potatoes and Other Spring Crops)

Well, it’s snowing again.  As I write, warm in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot, earthy coffee, I watch the rain/snow mix fall weightlessly to the ground.  Maryjane thought Santa was coming the other night.  But, even folks that live in Colorado forget that April is one of our snowiest months and we have two more weeks before Santa can put his snow boots away! Still, the finches are singing and a quiet hush is over the land as the blossomed fruit trees drink and the earth softens with moisture.

Last week if it were even fairly warm I was at the Community Garden.  Opening a little late, leaving a little early from work, goodness, it’s a very good thing I can’t fire myself! (so this summer should I be missing from my shop go to the community gardens…)

Now, let’s get to work, spring crops are going in!  I lined the paths I created with thick blocks of straw.  Underneath, as I empty the bags of garden soil, I slip the bag beneath the straw as weed suppression.  I will place walking stones across these as money allows to hold everything in place.

Use a good old fashioned hoe to rough up the areas and to easily pull up errant, non-medicinal weeds.  You see that I purposely am gardening around the Cherokee roses and mullein!

The first row of potatoes (russet) will be joined by garlic.  Any organic garlic from the store will work (conventional vegetables are sprayed so that they cannot be planted).  A row of potatoes every foot and a half or so and a long row of garlic cloves next to it.  I used this marker to show where  ran out of garlic cloves, cause I’ll be damned if I waste even two feet of space!  In went kale seeds.

The next two rows of potatoes were joined by yellow onions.  When I ran out of onions, I planted chard.  Just dig a hole, nestle seed potato in, cover with garden soil.  Cut a thin row with your hoe, put a few seeds per few inches, cover in garden soil.  That is how we will plant everything.  Water, cover the whole thing with a light, and I mean light, covering of straw. We aren’t trying to suppress weeds here yet, just keep the soil from drying out too fast, and leaving little seeds exposed.

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I use tomato cages to hold up vines.  Around the outside of the tomato cages every three inches or so goes in a pea seed.  Four cages of snap peas, four of my beloved purple snow peas (just like immigrants and travelers and migrators of old, I have carried my seeds with me through our journey this last year), and four of Alaskan shelling peas.  In V shaped lines zigzagging between cages went four different kinds of lettuce, and more kale.

I had room at the end of the peas (see how many vegetables you can get in a small space?) I planted a few seeds in each hole a foot a part of quick growing cabbage.  Greyhound cabbage, it’s called.  I love it because we loved and miss our greyhound!  In a tick tack toe grid between the cabbages went radishes.

Another row went in of another kind of cabbage and Doug’s favorite, cucumbers, every other.  The last foot and a half is for corn, beans, and pumpkins, and sunflowers but we won’t put those in for two weeks.  I left a foot on the north end as well for the same.

In the other bed Maryjane and I started one row that contains beets, three different colors of carrots, pak choi, spinach, and cauliflower.  Then one of broccoli who will probably be interplanted with soy beans.  Seeds will grow, planting 1 or 2 in each hole is quite sufficient, unless you have a three year old gardener.  I think she planted 20 cauliflower seeds in each hole.  She was so cute doing it though!

Paths in, seeds lightly covered, now we wait for the rain and snow to moisten, then Nudah (sun) to come out and spread enough warmth to germinate the seeds.  Soon it will be summer.  See you next week!